A growing number of exotic destination seeking travelers are stealing away to Eastern Europe. Packed with all of the Allure of the UK, France or Italy Eastern Europe arguably offers cities rich in culture and medieval architecture with just as much grandeur as Western European destinations. Tourism is definitely starting to build in this corner of the world. Here are 25 amazing places you should visit in Eastern Europe.
1. Bucharest, Romania
Bucharest, the capital of Romania is a dynamic modern city with a wildly sensational history. Nicknamed “little Paris” in the early 1900’s Bucharest really plays the part with hip cafes, impressive tree lined boulevards and dramatic modern and historic architecture. Home to many attractions, the most remarkable landmark in this vibrant city is the monstrous Parliament Palace. Being equally enormous and ostentatious, it is a mind-blowing architectural feat trumped only in size by the Pentagon.
Where there are many examples of Bucharest’s cultural and architectural splendor the highlights include the Romanian Athenaeum, an elaborately domed circular building that is the cities main concert hall, Bucharest University and the National History Museum.
2. Sibiu, Romania
Sibiu is a city in Transylvania, Romania that has a cultural magic all its own. It will have you instantly spellbound with its striking medieval charm, breathtaking views of surrounding landscapes and delicious food. It’s historical center was built into two very pedestrian levels filled with most of Sibiu’s historical sites, colorful houses and cobble stone streets.
An artsy yet traditional vibe exists in the city that appealingly permeates the litany of cafes, festivals and exhibitions that thrive there. Some great things to experience in Sibiu are the Brukenthal Museum, andthe Crama Sibiu Vechi restaurant, a great place to enjoy authentic Romanian fare and the view of the historical center from the top of the Council Tower.
3. Bratislava, Slovakia
The truly charming city of Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. Its tiny old town is packed with medieval grandeur, all over looked by the cities majestic hilltop Castle. The narrow streets are lined with restaurants and bars beckoning for you to eat, drink and appreciate the culture.
Be sure to check out the Bratislava Castle and the Slavin Memorial for the best city views. Visit at Christmas and check out the traditional Market on the main square in the center of the city. It offers genuine local holiday specialties including delicious mulled wine that shouldn’t be missed.
4. Nida, Lithuania
Exquisite Nida is the primary settlement on Lithuania’s side of the Curonian Spit. This spit is a curved sand dune in between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by Russia and Lithuania. Nida is the tourist destination on spit. The relics of yesteryear tell a story of a bygone fishing village. Colorful wooden cottages and bright boats in the harbor add to natural beauty that dominates here.
White sand beaches are a short hike through pine forest from Nida. Parnidis Dune, the massive and most impressive dune is just South of the village. It has steps up to its lofty summit where you can enjoy sweeping views of pristine, rippling dunes. Eat at Nidos Seklycia and take a tour to explore Curonian National Park. Both of these experiences will show you everything that draws visitors to this precious place.
5. Skopje, Macedonia
Skopje is amid Europe’s most diverse and compelling capital cities. It is an eclectic blend of Christian and Islamic cultures. This blend has given birth to a spirited and colorful society. A social vibe pervades the city, locals play chess in the parks and the city comes alive at night as people flock to cafes and bars to enjoy music and conversation. Visit the Carsija neibourhood to enjoy Skopje’s best historic structures and museums. Complete with a Triumphal Arch, the Plostad Makedonija Square is dedicated to national heroes.
6. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, nicknamed the Pearl of the Adriatic, is the shining star of Croatia. With its awe inspiring old town highlighted by the sparkle of the sea, Dubrovnik is arguably one of the most beautiful towns in all of Eastern Europe. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, it is loaded with spectacular architecture, boasting brilliant churches, museums and sculptures. No visit to Dubrovnik would be complete without a walk along the city wall. The view over the city and the Adriatic is breath taking from this vantage point. For a more sweeping view take a cable car from town to the top of nearby Mt, Srd.
7. Split, Croatia
Split is the second largest city in Croatia. It lies on the Eastern shores of the Adriatic centering on Diocletian’s Palace, an impressive Roman monument that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Coastal mountains serve as Splits backdrop adding drama to the cities gorgeous cityscape. The palace is the heart of the city, It is a lively maze of streets filled with people, restaurants, bars and shops. A walking tour of the palace is the best way to see all of the highlights. Split has a flourishing beach scene in the summer. Visit the popular Bacvice Beach to enjoy the sea and games galore.
8. Mljet Island, Croatia
Considered one of the most beautiful Croatian Islands, Mljet is by far the greenest. The island, covered mostly in dense Mediterranean forest, sprinkled with vineyards, farms and tiny villages is the epitome of tranquility. The north half is Mljet National Park. With its pristine salt-water lakes and staggering density of vegetation, it is truly an unspoiled oasis. Visit Polace to check out the impressive Roman Palace that still remains dating from the first to the fifth century. Eat by the sea at Konoba Ankora, the best restaurants in Polace.
9. Orheiul Vechi, Moldova
Moldova’s most extraordinary and scenic vista is the Oreil Vechi Monastery. It is a cave monastery sculpted into an imposing limestone cliff making it arguably Moldova’s most haunting place. Supporting attractions include an ethnographic museum in nearby Butuncei, newly opened caves just across the valley and chilling views from the monasteries headquarters.
10. Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade is the red hot, happening capital of Serbia. Its passionate resurgence toward a better future has resulted in a chaotic mix of nouveau masterpieces and old world relics.The Kalemegden Citadel is an excellent example of this. The formidable and impressive citadel has a bloody history that is still recognizable today despite the cheerful cafes and funfairs that inhabit it. To experience more of Belgrade’s intrigue take an underground tour and explore more of the cities tumultuous past.
11. Ljubljana, Slovenia
The capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana is a culturally rich city filled with some of the best museums, restaurants and hotels in the country. The centerpiece of this arguably beautiful city is Presernov Trg, a lovely square that is the city’s favorite place to meet. Car traffic is restricted in this area making the banks of the Ljubljana River, which runs right through the center, free for a stroll or a bike ride. Cafes set up terraces along the river creating an endless street party kind of vibe. To appreciate the baroque beauty of the city visit the Ljubljana Castle and the National and University Library. Both are examples of stunning architecture.
12. Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw is a city of complex character and gritty appeal. The capital was obliterated in WWII and has fought tirelessly to rebuild and replace what was lost ever since. Today the city hums with electric energy and fierce optimism. That remarkable tenacity extends to the city’s edgy art openings and booming club and music industries.
To experience some of the past in Warsaw tour the Old Town, filled with the loveliest historical buildings in the city or visit the epic Warsaw Rising Museum. For a taste of the present check out Warszawa Powisle Station Bar. Described as a kiosk of culture this hip spot is a cultural institution featuring an eclectic variety of food, drink and great music among other things.
13. Krakow, Poland
Krakow is one of the oldest cities in Poland. Legend says it was founded on a conquest of a dragon. A former Royal capital, Krakow is steeped in a long and dramatic history. The Historic Center of Krakow is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Boasting Europe’s largest market square, the Old Town is comprised of historic homes, palaces and spectacular churches. A walking tour of this area is a great way to see and learn about the area. The best of Krakow includes Wawel Royal Castle and the stone Adalbert Church. The new Schindler’s Museum tells an emotional story about the Nazi occupation in Krakow. It is located in the former factory of Oscar Schindler and is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
14. Moscow, Russia
The city of Moscow, the center of Soviet mystique, is a stunning representation of Russia of yesterday and Russia of today. A truly inspiring city, Moscow is home to important Museum of Russian art and some of the best performing arts in the world. To appreciate the best of Moscow you must visit the Kremlin and Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral is the true icon of Russia and the Tretyakov Museum holds the world’s most important collection of Russian art. The world renowned Gorky Park and Bolshoi Theater are two more reasons to visit the most majestic city in Eastern Europe.
15. Riga, Latvia
Riga, the capital of Latvia is the cosmopolitan cornerstone of the Baltic. It has the biggest and most magnificent showing of Art Nouveau architecture in all of Europe. The Old Town is like something straight out of a fairy tale complete with gingerbread trim houses and nightmarish gargoyles. Highlights in Riga are the very old and equally huge Central Market, The Riga Art Nouveau Center to explain the imagination that lies beyond the stunning facades, and the imposing Riga Castle.
16. Sofia, Bulgaria
Sophia is the capital of Bulgaria. Distinguished by its special combination of European and Communist style architecture Sophia is home to many ornate Orthodox churches and Soviet looking stone civic buildings. The city boasts vast manicured parks and with such closes proximity to mighty Mt. Vitosh for skiing or a hike, it is easy to enjoy a break from the busy city streets. Some of the best things to see and experience in Sophia are The Nevski Church, the most beautiful park in Sophia, Park Borisova Gradina and Manastirska Manernitsa restaurant to sample delicious Bulgarian cuisine
17. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn’s two-tiered historic center is one of Europe’s most bewitching walled cities. Right out of a fairy tale with its cobbled streets and medieval architecture historic Tallinn is astonishingly well preserved. Visit the oldest Gothic town hall in North Eastern Europe, and Tallinn’s chief landmark, the Oleviste Church. The best view of Old Town is from this church’s observation deck. Check out the Gloria Wine Cellar to add to the fairy tale allure. With its flickering candles and subterranean nooks and crannies this place is way more than a wine store.
18. Vilnius, Lithuania
Vilnius is the beguiling Baroque beauty of Lithuania. A chaotic mix of Baroque and Gothic architecture, Vilnius is both strange and stunning at the same time. The Gate of Dawn, the cities resounding landmark is a testament to the city forging a new identity. In Vilnius, the past and present combine to offer you worldly cuisine, lively nightlife and warmth so welcoming it will captivate you. Take a walking tour of historic Vilnius to see all of the highlights. Vilnius, steeped in a tumultuous history, has endured much tragedy; visit the Museum of Genocide to appreciate the marvel that Vilnius is today.
19. Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor Bay boasts the deepest bay depths (bordering on fjord proportions) in the Mediterranean Sea. The surrounding landscape includes staggeringly steep mountains that plunge right to the water’s edge. The scene is truly spectacular. Adventure and intrigue pervade old Kotor. The old city is a maze built for protection that is so effective, even locals get lost navigating the narrow streets. Take a city tour to get your bearings and see all of the beauty that is Kotor. Highlights include St.Tryphones Cathedral and Konoba Catovic Mlini restaurant.
20. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Sarajevo has transformed from the ruin in the 1990 conflicts to become one of Eastern Europe’s sparkling jewels. Rich in cultural and religious diversity both influences bolster Sarajevo’s appeal. To appreciate Sarajevo’s culture visit Biban and enjoy epic city views and delicious local specialties. Not to be missed, The Tunnel Museum offers a look back on the hope and horrors that the hand dug tunnel inspired during the conflict
21. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a vast labyrinth of cobble stone streets, historic architecture and secret courtyards that ignites the wanderlust in everyone who visits this magical city. The city’s skyline is spectacular, boasting almost a thousand spires, domes and towers. With magnificent parks and gardens, a cosmopolitan café culture and excellent theaters and museums there is about as many reasons to make Prague your next vacation destination. Some of the best places to visit in Prague are The Prague Castle, Veletrzni Palac Museum and the Letna Beer Garden. With so much to see and do in this great city taking a tour will help you hit all of the highlights.
22. Olomouc, Czech Republic
Olomouc is the undiscovered gem of the Czech Republic. Legend has it the city was founded by Julius Cesar and the Roman influence is prolific in its culture and historic architecture. Olomouc quietly combines rich historical beauty with youthful verve to create an exciting destination that rivals Prague for allure but undoubtedly wins top prize for best value. Some of the best things to see and experience in Olomouc are Horni Namesti, Olomouc’s main square boasts two of the cities six ornate Baroque fountains, Premysl Palace and the Archdiocesan Museum.
23. Berat, Albania
Berat, “The city of a thousand windows”, is one of Albania’s most beautiful highlights. Ottoman houses stack like stairs up Mt. Tomorri to the castle. The unique mountain town exudes a friendly, laid-back vibe. Nowhere is this more evident than the town’s sunset stroll. Every night, before sunset, hundreds of locals take to the main street to walk and talk or grab a drink at a cafe. Visit the Kalasa neighborhood, beyond the castle walls. The views from the castle are the best. To learn more about art and culture in the area visit Onufri Museum or take an expert guided tour of the city.
24. Ionian Coast, Albania
Along the Ionian Coast, rugged mountains plunge into the clear blue sea. This stretch of coast in Albania is truly spectacular. Many historic sites exist in towns and cities in this area. The ancient ruins of Butrint and the Castle of Lekuresit are two of the highlights in this area. Visit Vlora to enjoy historic buildings and museums. If you long for the beach hold out for smaller villages further south. Outdoor adventures abound in this breath taking setting. Take a sea kayaking tour to appreciate the grandeur of this coastline.
25. Budapest, Hungary
Beautiful Budapest. Divided by the long, meandering Danube River it is an alluring tale of two distinctly different cities. Buda on the west bank is hills and historical sites. Pest on the East bank is flat plains pulsating with modern cafes and clubs.The list of things to see in Budapest is long. Highlights are The Great Synagogue, Memento Park and The Royal Palace. Take a night river cruise to appreciate the impressive Parliament Building and the Szechenyi Chain Bridge. Both are breathtaking lit at night.
Featured photo credit: Miroslav Petrasco via hdrshooter.com